My Pick for 2022 Tech: Transporting the Longest Blade for the World's Largest Wind Turbine

Vestas V236-15.0 MW Offshore Wind 6 photos
Photo: Vestas
Vestas V236-15.0 MW Offshore WindVestas V236-15.0 MW Offshore WindVestas V236-15.0 MW Offshore WindVestas V236-15.0 MW Offshore WindVestas V236-15.0 MW Offshore Wind
Just look at this. Look at this giant stick that those ants are carrying on the road. That roundabout is so small that they had to enlarge the area on one side for the convoy to pass. No other ants on wheels are allowed when this monster is on the road.
There are two platforms holding it, one in the front and one in the middle. Each platform has 10 axles and two pairs of special wheels on each axle. A total of 80 wheels. Add to this the truck and the supporting vans. There are more than 100 wheels needed to carry this thing!

But what is it?

It’s a wind blade. Well, not just a wind blade – it’s the biggest wind blade ever built. It’s one of the three blades that were built in 2022 for the largest wind turbine in the history of mankind. The Vestas V236-15.0 MW.

The three blades were transported from the company’s factory in Lindø, Denmark, to the Østerild National Test Centre site. It was a road journey spanning 300 km (186 miles). Can you imagine what it is like to carry this thing at such a distance? The obstacles, the logistics, the time?

According to Google Maps, this is a three and a half hours road trip by car. But the maximum speed of this convoy is much lower than a car's, and there are many stops along the way. So, a blade like this probably spent many days on the road.

The mighty red truck probably has the sheer force of a locomotive. And its internal combustion engine surely needs a lot of fuel. I wonder how many pollutants were produced on this journey, how many kg/km (lbs/mile) of CO2, fine particles, NOx, and other chemicals.

Or how much pollution is attributable to manufacturing this huge blade or to sourcing all the raw materials needed. Also, let's see what will happen to the components in 25 years - will they be recycled, or will they end up in a landfill, adding to environmental issues.

It’s like the battery recycling dilemma is repeating

A decade ago, when the first mass-production electric cars were rolling out of the factory, recycling them wasn’t on the to-do list. Neither sustainable sourcing of raw materials nor the low-emissions procedures in the manufacturing process.

Now it's only natural to blame EVs for their batteries-related pollution. Because of that, an electric car’s manufacturing pollution is double compared to a conventional car. So, the zero-emission label looks like fake news, but only if you take information out of context.

The bigger picture is telling otherwise: electric cars don’t have pipelines, and they don’t spew pollutants into the air. As ICE cars do because their engines burn fuel made from fossil oil.

Propelling EVs really is zero pollution because their electric motors use the electricity stored in batteries. And the battery manufacturing pollution is paid off rather quickly compared to ICE cars.

There is also pollution from electricity production

You got me; a lot of that electricity comes from power plants that use dirty fossil coal or less dirty fossil natural gas. Burning fossil fuels is the main source of GHG emissions and pollutants. That’s unfortunate. But without that electricity, there’s no modern civilization.

We need it for almost everything. For smartphones and laptops. For washing machines and fridges. For lightning and factories. Oh, yes, don’t forget the electric vehicles. The related pollution for their electricity is basically the same for all other things, is it?

The energy sector is the biggest source of emissions. Or put it this way: our hunger for electricity is the main culprit for global warming and accelerating climate change, and all that grim scenarios with dooming outcomes at the end of this century.

So it’s only natural to replace polluting fossil fuels with non-polluting sources

A big chunk of electricity is also coming from nuclear power plants or hydropower. They are less harmful than fossils, but they still have their share of downsides. That's why in the last decade, the balance began to accelerate, shifting to low-impact renewables.

Solar panels’ efficiency is evolving like crazy, while wind turbines are getting bigger. There is also the quest for nuclear fusion – 2022 was the year of a historic breakthrough, but expect a workable solution for such abundant clean energy only in a few decades from now.

In the mid-term, our best bet is hydrogen. Not the "gray" one, which today is made from fossil natural gas, but the "green hydrogen" sustainably sourced from water. Unfortunately, such processes require vast amounts of energy.

So, we need more renewable energy. A whole lot more. And really fast, if we really want to ditch polluting fossils and electrify everything.

Offshore wind energy is the fastest way

Just think about it. Building dams and artificial lakes require a lot of time and lots of materials. Besides, there is a pretty high environmental cost. Building nuclear power plants also requires a lot of time, and there are far bigger risks (remember Chornobyl), but also tremendous pollution issues because of nuclear waste.

Building solar farms is pretty economically feasible these days. But low efficiency of solar panels requires projects on a much larger scale than anything done before. Besides, they work only when the sun is up. Building onshore wind farms are also economically feasible, but the wind doesn’t blow all the time.

Offshore wind turbines are much better. They work non-stop because, on the sea, the wind blows at any given moment by day and by night. They don’t take up space on the land we need for crops or forests. The overall benefits are much more important than the downsides.

That’s why the biggest wind turbine in the world – at this time – makes so much sense

One blade of Vestas V236-15.0 MW is longer than a soccer field. All three of them have a sweeping area of 4.3 hectares (10.6 acres), which is more than five football fields combined! As such, this behemoth wind turbine is capable of producing 80 GWh of electricity each year.

Replacing a fossil fuel power plant with this turbine would prevent almost 40,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from getting into the atmosphere. So this turbine could power 20.000 households or 25.000 electric vehicles every year.

Its lifespan is estimated to be at least 25 years. Taking into account the worst-case scenario for emissions related to the manufacturing and transport of this wind turbine, its related pollution will probably be offset in one or two years of use at most.

Back to that “more than 100 wheels” image

It’s telling a much bigger story. It’s the story of a fast and sustainable transition from fossil fuels. We have to ditch oil, coal, and gas as fast as we can. If we really want a future on this planet as a civilization, not a Mad Max movie post-apocalyptical scenario.

The 2°C (35.6 F) scenario at the end of this century doesn’t seem to scare people, governments, or industries. Well, I’m scared. Because I tend to trust science. And most climate predictions in the last few decades are close to accurate or even optimistic compared to reality.

I won’t be around by the end of the century, so maybe I worry for nothing. But how about my little girl? How about her children in the future? How about the next generations? Isn’t taking care of offspring the very essence of humanity?

This world is not ours. It’s our children’s. We don’t have the right to burn fossil fuels and pump billions of tons of GHGs and pollutants into the atmosphere. Anyone who declines this responsibility is ignorant. Or just a prick.

Can we give up our drug addiction?

We, as a modern society, are dependent on fossil fuels. They are our drugs. They were important for our technological evolution, but they are also our doom if we don’t give up on them. We didn’t know sh*t about pollution, greenhouse emissions, or global warming when we started using them on a large scale.

But in time, we learned about all the harm they do to us and the environment. We learned that it’s crazy to poison the air we breathe. Just hold your breath. Hold it. A little longer. Do you get it? Is the air vital for you to live?

Yes, I know we cannot magically replace fossil fuels with renewables overnight. But we can make efforts to accelerate the transition. We need to hurry to build as many non-polluting solutions, like this behemoth wind turbine.

In the process, we’ll still be using fossil fuels, that’s for sure. We’ll build that future zero-emissions energy infrastructure by using polluting solutions. That’s the way it is. There’s no denial about that.

But it’s still much, much better to pollute today a little for a no-pollution future than to keep polluting a lot for no future. If you think there’s still time to debate, to postpone, to not care, think again.

We’re already holding our breath, all the 8 billion people on this planet. For how long?
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About the author: Oraan Marc
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After graduating college with an automotive degree, Oraan went for a journalism career. 15 years went by and another switch turned him from a petrolhead into an electrohead, so watch his profile for insight into green tech, EVs of all kinds and alternative propulsion systems.
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